Secondary Education in England, 1870-1902: Public Activity and Private Enterprise

By John Roach | Go to book overview

3

Political, administrative, and religious issues

The general work of the commissioners may be examined under three aspects: political, religious, and academic. Effective management was crucial to the success of the new schemes, and what was achieved formed only a fragment of the original plans of the Schools Inquiry Commission. They had proposed a central educational council together with provincial councils, each employing a district commissioner who would act as a local inspector. They also recommended a central council of examinations with power to examine schoolmasters and to register private schools. None of this machinery passed into law. The commissioners in London did provide a central body of a kind, though it acted solely in relation to individual endowments and had no general powers of policy-making or planning. The absence of the provincial councils proved a serious loss, because there was nothing between the central administrative body and the governing bodies of individual schools. The gap could be bridged occasionally by a visit from an assistant commissioner, but it soon became clear that the absence of any forum of local opinion made co-operation between the centre and the provinces far more difficult to achieve. The burdens on the centre did not diminish as time went on because schemes, after they had been made, needed regular revision. In the 1880s the Charity Commissioners were asking for powers to carry out inspections of schools, and they were permitted in 1887 to appoint assistant commissioners as inspectors (CC 27th Rep., PP 1880 XVIII:94; Bishop 1971:246-7). This work was useful and it helped to bridge the wide gap between the central administration and the schools, but it was only a partial substitute for the provincial organization which had originally been planned.

School governing bodies had been constituted in many different ways before 1869. Some schools were administered by London city companies. Many others, which had originally been controlled by town councils, were managed by municipal charity trustees set up under the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835. Sometimes the appointment of the master lay in different hands from that of the general government of the school. At Bedford, for example, the headmaster and staff of the grammar

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